Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Chills - Submarine Bells (1990)

This is the final NZ CD I shall be spinning this month - although I may move onto my cassette tapes.

The Chills are one of the classic Dunedin bands. Frontman Martin Phillips is the only consistent member of the band, and they have released six full length albums - several compilations and a bunch of EPs. This was their third album, and their most succesful (it attained #1 on the charts) - in part due to the explosion of popularity in the whole Flying Nun/Dunedin sound and aided rather by the opening track and first single "Heavenly Pop Hit" which I still regard as one of the Definitive NZ songs. Many of the more modern NZ bands have a polished, American sound, but the sludgy, low mix of the Flying Nun label will always stick in my head as being the true NZ sound. Although it should be noted, this album was not released on the Flying Nun label - this was their first release on a major label - Slash/Liberation.

The cover depicts, I believe, a jellyfish, although it also rather resembles a translucent mushroom. It is very blue.

The opening organ of "Heavenly Pop Hit" is utterly unmistakable, bringing with it a clarity and joy that stirs the spirit and the heart. Phillip's voice is sweet and moderately high.

We have piano and a slightly British feel to "Tied Up in Chains". It reminds me a little of Blur and Madness and that whole English Rock sound of the late 80s. Not so much the Dunedin sound at all. Of course, this is somewhat ruined by Phillip's very kiwi accent.

Another nicely rock number is "The Oncoming Day". It offers little new - just a good pace and steady rhythms, catchy chrous.

We drop to a slightly lower pace for "Part Past Part Fiction" with its dreamy, slightly surreal feeling.

"Singing in My Sleep" is vocally dominated, interlaid with tremolo guitar and keyboard rhythms.

The swooping and gliding flute leads a soft and lilting edge to "I Soar" with its slight folk feel. It's a pleasing, slow song with sunlight shimmering through dappled leaves and a leaf frolicking on the wind.

More organ/keyboards lead us into "Dead Web" with its catchy and rollicking chorus.

Fast paced "Familiarity Breeds Contempt" is a solid rock number, with its steady rhythm. Phillips' Kiwi twang really shows in this number.

Pianoleads us into the more haunting "Don't Be - Memory". Vocals are slightly distorted, echoeey, with a shade of Pink Floyd (but Kiwi).

The beautifully titled "Effloresce and Deliquesce" has a wonderfully folkish aspect to it. The vocals are fast, and pronounciation, an education! To blossom and decay. What magnificant words. And quite a glorious song too, with its playful rhythms.

"Sweet Times" is absurdly short, almost choral and over too soon.

Another haunting number, "Submarine Bells" has the symphonic power of the opening track, but is overset by a melancholy that makes it spine-chilling.

Aside from "Heavenly Pop Hit", this album was previously unknown to me. At least this time it was because it's not my CD, but my husband's (although I do own some CDs that I've not actually listened to). It certainly seems more English than I had expected - with the pacing and music found in bands like Blur and Madness - the whole Britpop explosion. Although, given this album came out at approximately the same time (or before, in some cases), it makes you wonder whether it was intentional or coincidence. The tracks are short, and the whole album only clocks in at around half an hour.

The clarity of sound is certainly very good, and it is an enjoyable and well produced album - just not entirely to my musical tastes. I could listen to it, but I'd probably not buy it (although I may be persuaded to acquire several of the tracks).

Rating = 7/10

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